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March 8, 2018

A working class hero


March 8, 2018

Genuine politics empowers the poor, raises their stature, enables them to move beyond personal concerns and interests and connects them with the larger good and unaddressed questions of economic equality and justice.

Jam Saqi, hailing from the lower socio-economic strata, was one such man who rose to prominence in the country’s politics and left an indelible mark on the history of Marxist political struggle in Pakistan.

Communists in other parts of the world may have been seeking the imposition of a proletarian dictatorship, but Jam Saqi, along with his comrades, faced years of imprisonments and torture to establish a democratic order in the country.

His passing away in Hyderabad this week marks an end to the era that produced selfless political leaders like him. After all, his name remained a symbol of communist politics and revolution in Pakistan for decades. The Communist Party (CP) had many bright minds, but Jam was the political face of the party. For our new generation, the very idea of having a communist movement in this land of the pure may sound alien. But the reality is that it had a pretty impressive presence across the country, particularly in Sindhi society; I am unable to think of any city in the province where activists of the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) and CP did not exist. (One hopes one day someone will research and write a book on communist politics in Sindh)

It was not just the influence of socialism that had turned an ordinary village boy from Chachro Taluqa in Thar into a communist leader. It was instead Pakistan’s democratic dispensation, military dictatorship, student politics of the late 1960s and the Bangladesh movement that turned him into a political activist. Before Jam became a communist leader, he was a well-respected student leader in Sindh, and seen as the hero of the March 4, 1960 student movement; when students held their first massive protest in Hyderabad, Jam was arrested along with other student leaders namely Iqbal Tareen, Yousuf Talpur and Yousuf Laghari. At the time, none of Sindh’s other political parties including the Rasool Bux Palijo-led Awami Tahreek and GM Syed’s Jeay Sindh Movement, had been formed. Student politics and the National Awami Party (NAP) became platforms on which Sindh’s prominent politicians became active. It was this political vacuum that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto capitalised on and so founded the PPP in Hala in 1967.

Author of seven books in Sindhi and Urdu languages, Jam Saqi was a leftist intellectual who analysed the events of his time and led movements. He used to write for newspapers, compose poetry and pen down short stories. As a journalist, he edited three newspapers in different times. Literature, politics and journalism were the three common interests and professions in his family. His cousin, Sohail Sangi, who had also participated in movements led by Jam, remained the editor of a Karachi-based Sindhi language newspaper for years –he continues to write as an analyst.

Military dictatorships made Jam Saqi the person he was, and denied him a happy personal life. Being a conscientious citizen, he could not remain silent over suppression and ended up going to jail several times. He spent 15 years of his youth in prison, and at one time Benazir Bhutto had to appear before a military court as his witness to state that “Jam is a patriotic citizen of the state”. Military courts kept several political prisoners in jails for years, giving out punishments that these citizens did not deserve. But this is what Pakistan has been made: punishing its own people who simply seek the implementation of rule of law and establishment of a democratic order.

Jam Saqi has passed away and his communist movement has also diminished in scope and scale. But class domination in politics as well as the system is a bitter reality. While this is being challenged, the resistance is not coming from the working class but from different faces of the same class. Mainstream politics has become a tool to camouflage economic exploitation. National interests are defined by civil-military bureaucrats and the political elite who do not take into account poverty, income gaps, regional imbalances and economic injustice. Thus, the agenda of dismantling a structure that breeds inequality remains valid.

The political cause that Jam stood for is still relevant but the agenda of socio-economic progress of the downtrodden has taken a backseat. His life and struggle continues to inspire many activists, who need to seek economic justice by chalking-out a strategy to organise workers, peasants, women and students. But such an agenda would have to employ democratic means because the idea of a proletarian dictatorship is a 19th century concept that has now been rendered obsolete. A socialist movement not rooted in social democracy will lack popular legitimacy and will not be sustainable.

To dream of a just society is not madness. It is a need that the dominant forces are delaying. But it cannot be denied to the people whose survival and progress depends on it. The cyclical nature of the socio-economic crises that have occurred time and again across the world, is a reflection of the unjust distribution of resources. The discontentment that one often witnesses in election campaigns in various parts of the world is caused by economic inequality, but is narrated through different forms. The truth about systematic and structural exploitation is not allowed to be questioned. But it is this very truth that requires people like Jam Saqi, who devote their lives to political ideals of change and progress, to address it.

The political life and character of Jami Saqi was seen by leftist workers as that of a hero. What really made him a true working-class hero, unlike some who in the process of class struggle ended up changing their own class, was that comrade Jam Saqi remained who he was – a selfless, committed, untiring and brave communist. He fought for constitutional rule in Pakistan and defied dictatorships with a smile on his face. Jam Saqi illuminated the path to political struggle believing that change is but a political question.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MushRajpar

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